Food Fright, Part 24

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:32 pm


This episode of Food Fright is brought to you by the letters B and K. Also by Dalek and Fisherbear, who saw these at the store on their way to our July 4 barbecue and couldn’t resist.

I guess I can’t really blame Burger King for trying to weasel its way into the fickle home-snack market. After all, their market share in the arena of fast food restaurants is tiny, 4% in 2008 as compared to their closest competitor, the Evil M-pire. Seems like all poor old BK ever does is play catch-up to its arch nemesis but never quite hitting the mark. This product would seem to be another one of those near-misses for which this company is so rightly famous. It’s not always good to be the King.

To start off, I am usually openly suspicious of any comestible that attempts to conceal itself in the guise of something else. There are two main exceptions to this rule of thumb. One is the obvious exception of works of true artistry such as the piece of chocolate sushi that was delivered anonymously to me some years ago (and which I have maintained, mint in box, on a shelf in our living room). The other is any foodstuff that is pretending to be something else entirely, like a gourmet chocolate bar in the shape of a gun, or anything from The Erotic Bakery. But despite these divergences, as a rule foods masquerading as other foods tend to be a gross disappointment to aficionados of either.


A potato chip is not a french fry. And these only barely qualify as potato chips. They are sclerotia of dehydrated potatoes, potato starch and other binders. The overall mouth-feel is very similar to the one that Pringles‘ parent company Procter & Gamble pioneered in the 1970s with their distinctive “pre-chewed for your enjoyment” snacking experience. Not horrible by any means (I happen to enjoy the occasional Pringle), but reminiscent of neither potato chip nor french fry, these things seem to dwell in some secretive twilight domain between food groups. Perhaps they need their own unique designation: prototato. Starchestrol. Something, anyway. Despite what you may think of them culinarily, a Tim’s Cascade Style Potato Chip looks and tastes exactly like what it is; a slice of potato boiled in oil. A Burger King Ketchup & Fries Flavored Potato Snack (and doesn’t that name alone ring some alarm bells? Not “Potato Chip”, but “Flavored Potato Snack”. Like reading “Processed Cheese Food” instead of just “Cheese”, the name seems like a gustatory prevarication all by itself) looks like fragments of flash-fried sticks of Doublemint Gum accidentally exposed to an auto detailer’s red touch-up spray gun.

As for the flavor: once again, it’s not bad. But it sure ain’t ketchup. In fact, selling this flavor as “ketchup” is to do it a bit of a disservice. There are notes of garlic, onion and other spices in there somewhere. It’s rather more like a barbecue flavor. Which I’m sure was the goal all along. Ketchup is too bland, too tomato-and-sugar flavored to really “pop” on a chip. Give a Pringle a quick dunk in a shallow pool of ketchup and you’ll likely wish you hadn’t. I think the wiser heads at the Inventure Group (progenitors of this fine flavored potato snack) decided that they needed to furnish the consumer with a “ketchup-like” sensation without actually exposing them to ketchup, which in this instance would have detracted from the overall experience. Like watching an action-packed gunfight sequence in a movie as opposed to being in an actual gunfight, sometimes an approximation is preferable to the actuality.

So what this all boils down to, Food Frightwise, is a massive deception on the part of Burger King, perpetrated on both the consumer and upon the company itself. These things bear no relationship whatsoever to their namesake, nor to anything one might find in any respectable burger joint (or even a Burger King) except perhaps a food-spattered plastic place mat. Had this product been marketed under any other name, it would just be yet another failed venture into the inhospitable, heart-of-darkness wilderness of modern food marketing: not great by any means, but not truly awful either. It’s the pretension—no, that’s not quite it—the hallucination that this product has even the remotest scintilla to do with a piping-hot basket of crispy fries dunked in ketchup that demotes Ketchup & Fries Flavored Potato Snacks from a mere failure to a Food Fright. God only knows where this desperate turf battle will take Burger King next. Can’t wait to try their Whopper-flavored all-day suckers. 😯

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